Great coaches are curious creatures.
If you want to become a better coach and leader for your team you need to expand your sense of curiosity. The following practices will help you get closer:
- Learning to listen well.
- Practicing asking better questions.
Today, I want to talk about questions.
Do you remember the last time someone asked you a question that really made you think? Like really think? Chances are you can’t. Why? Because good questions are rare and people who ask them even more so.
What makes a question, a good question?
- If the answer to your question is bigger than a “yes” or “no”.
- If your question challenges your direct report to think of a new approach.
- If your question makes your direct report pause and think before answering.
- If the answer to your question leads to an AHA moment for you and your direct report.
- If asking the question is risky. Meaning you really don’t know what the answer might look like.
How do you design a good question?
Good questions can be open-ended (and sometimes close-ended).
- An open-ended question cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no”. These questions are broad and great for brainstorming and coming up with ideas.
- What did you think of the client meeting?
- What are some options you’re thinking about?
- What are you most excited about the product launch?
- Where do see yourself in the next 3 years?
- Tell me more
- Close-ended questions are laser-focussed and targeted. They help us narow our focus from the forest to the trees.
- What’s one thing I can do to improve XYZ?
- What’s one thing I’m doing that gets in the way?
- Should we pick option A or option B?
Open-ended questions help us come up with a list of options. Close-ended questions are about picking the right option.
Here are six examples of good questions.
- “Tell me more?”
- “How can I be helpful to you today?”
- “What’s the real challenge here for you?”
- “What was most valuable about this meeting?”
- “What was least valuable about this meeting?”
- “If you say yes to this today, what will you say no to today?”
Replace “Why” with “What”
The word “why” can sound harsh and judgmental. It almost sounds like we’re being accused. A good practice is to try replacing “why” with “what”. Remember we absolutely want to get to the “why” but we want to get to it in a gentler fashion.
- “Why did you do that” -> “What were you hoping to achieve?”
- “Why did you think this was a good idea” -> “What made you choose this course of action?”
- “Why are you bothering with this” -> “What’s important for you here?
Following are some interesting ways to turn ordinary questions into extraordinary ones.
- “What makes your job fulfilling?” is better than, “Do you like your job?”
- “When are you most energized?” is better than, “Are you energized?”
- “What questions do you have for me?” is better than, “Do you have questions*?*”
Use questions to resolve conflict
Questions are a great way to resolve conflict as well.
- “Can you please help me understand what I may be missing?”
- “I think there’s a gap in how we’re thinking about this. Would you agree?”
- “I’d love to get on the same page with you. How can we get there?”
How can I start asking better questions?
If you ask any writer for writing advice, they’ll tell you to read good writing and practice writing. The same logic applies to asking quetions. Start “collecting” good questions and practice them every day.